Steps To De-Gunk & Clean A Curling Or Flat Iron

In the scheme of things, curling (or flat) irons are pretty low maintenance but to keep things in prime salon condition, it’s ideal to regularly wipe them down after each use.

Taking just a few moments a day keeps them free from hairspray, gel and other sticky product buildup.

When the residue and trace products are left to accumulate over time, this will start to burn and create a funky smell that you really don’t want to breathe in (because hello! that’s burning chemicals swirling around) but also because the smell can transfer to your hair. Yech!

Another problem with dirty styling tools: they can leave sticky brown or white flakes of baked-on gunk that have chipped off the barrel and transferred into sections of your hair, or leave a greasy film/residue on your locks. This is not a good look!

If your hair tools are in pretty bad shape or have never been cleaned, no worries, it’s a pretty simple job to get them back to near-new condition.

Here’s an easy way remove that caked-on gunk:

  • Make sure the curling iron is unplugged and the barrel is cool to the touch.
  • Pour a bit of rubbing alcohol on a damp rag or a cotton ball and rub the barrel clean, make sure to open the clamp so you can get underneath it too.
  • If the product buildup is stubborn and won’t come off easily, try gently scrubbing with a toothbrush that was first dipped in rubbing alcohol.
  • After removing all of the nasty gunk, take another clean cloth and wet it with a bit of water. Wipe off the iron to remove any residue.
  • Wait until it is completely dry before plugging it in again.

Another Option: You can also try mixing 1/4 cup warm water and 1 TBS liquid fabric softener. Pour a bit on a sponge or cloth and wipe the barrel, the layers of gunk should wipe right off. Use a q-tip for hard to get at spots.

If you don’t have any rubbing alcohol in the house, you can also use one of these items (just don’t mix them together):

  • Household ammonia
  • Nail polish remover (acetone based)
  • Thick paste of baking soda and water, this works well on ceramic plates. Scrub gently so you don’t damage the surface.
  • Steel wool pad (if it’s non-teflon coated, otherwise try a plastic dish scrubbie).

A good way to clean teflon coated barrels is to heat it up, unplug then wrap a damp rag tightly around the barrel. Make sure all the excess liquid is squeezed out of the cloth before using, you don’t want any dripping water. Keep the rag wrapped tight for a few minutes then unwrap and you should be able to wipe the residue off easily. This is kind of a “steam clean” technique.

For Desperate Situations: I can’t guarantee how this will affect the surface of the barrel or if it will damage anything, but a cotton rag soaked in household vinegar, wrung out then wrapped tightly around the iron to soak for an hour or so may help loosen up stubborn crud.


  • If you regularly wipe it down with a damp cloth after each use (making sure the iron is unplugged first), this will prevent product buildup from happening in the first place.
  • It could become a fire hazard to keep a hot iron plugged in continuously that has all this product buildup on it. It could even shorten the lifespan of this styling tool. Your favorite may be not-so-expensive, but many of them are. It’s worthwhile caring for it properly.

Related Posts


    • kev

    Any suggestions on getting years of hairspray accumulation off a wall? We just bought a house and the previous owner’s 20-something daughter has spent the last 8 years lining her bathroom with a nice sticky layer of hairspray.

    Frankly, I don’t mind if I ruin the paint.

      • Michael Rich

      Try washing the walls with shampoo. The same formulae that takes hairspray and other build-up off your hair will usually work for walls. Try to avoid too much shampoo – you don’t want a sudsy mess.
      If that doesn’t work, and you really don’t care about the paint, you can try what professional painters do. With the room REALLY, REALLY, REALLY well ventelated (or wearing a respirator mask – but the room should still be well ventelated)wash the walls with lacquer thinner. This is a very strong and highly flammable solvent, so be careful. Unplug anything that might create a spark, make sure there are no live pilot lights (hot water heater, etc.) in the area. Start at the bottom of the wall and work upward. Change the rag frequently. When done with a rag, take it outside, spread it out, and let it air-dry before disposing. DON’T just toss them in a pile, or put them in a bag when they are still damp. They can spontaneously combust. Lacquer thinner is a pain to work with, but it will really do the job.

        • kev


    • karin

    I have a curling iron with a rubbery foam type handle grip. It’s been in storage(inside) for approx. 3 years and the rubbery part is very sticky.
    Any ideas on how to clean this? Any help would be very much appreciative.
    Thank you in advance.

    • Elle

    Hi Karin, I get it, you’re not talking about hair product buildup on the heating element you’re talking about the foam grip sticky handles! I have the same problem and no matter how I Google it the answers are all the same ….about hair product buildup?? drives me crazy. I wish I had an answer for you. I’ve been looking for one for years but nobody understands the question! it has nothing to do with hair product it’s whatever they use to manufacture the flat iron itself.
    it’s great to use when it’s new and you can hang onto with wet or weak hands. My Vidal Sassoon flat iron only took a few months to get sticky handles and now I don’t want to touch it.
    Once I post this I hope others will chime in and tell us the magic answer. fingers crossed!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *